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Art Speaks to the Future

May 17, 2014

 

We marvel at the pyramids of ancient Egypt and wonder how and why they were made. Answers come only from the art and crafts left behind...

Heiroglyph and cuneiform characters, carved into stone pillars called stele, name the kings who ordered the work. Some stele name the architects who designed the stone tombs.

Inside, paintings show vivid scenes of daily life in the region. From them, we learn about the people: their crops and how they celebrated the turn of seasons, their ideas on how to live a good life and their beliefs about what happens after they die. 

    The beautifully evocative paintings aren't signed with the names of the artists. Until recent eras, their societies called such artisans - craftsmen, the art they created, decoration. Their names  aren't important. What their artwork tells about their life and time is important. This information is the only way we have to understand how our human societies developed.

All we can learn about past civilizations comes from what modern archaeologists dig up. This is true of even relatively recent eras such as Renaissance Italy.

    Michelangelo and Leonardo will, one future day, be as nameless as the sculptor of the enigmatic Sphinx.
    The sporting and military enthusiasms of ancient Greece feature in marble wonders such as the Nike Adjusting her Sandal, held in the gallery under the Acropolis at Athens or the Winged Victory of Samothrace, now in the Louvre Museum, Paris. What we know of Greek philosophy and science comes from paintings on pottery and manuscript by story-tellers such as Homer. 

That these ancient artefacts can tell us so much about the people who produced them is due to one undeniable attribute: their makers created them in the visual 'language' of the audience. The artists used a style that reflected the real world around them.

    This was popular art in the truest sense. Any person who looked at it could understand it.
    Because everyone could understand the meaning, they also could judge whether the craftsmanship of the piece was poor, adequate or outstanding.
    In the last  hundred years, artists make our popular art in the many variations of Abstract style. Of these, only the Abstract-Figurative style uses forms reflecting reality, familiar enough to hold meaning for the viewer.

Many of the popular pieces now bringing fame and fortune to their makers originate in such methods as firing bags of paint from a cannon aimed at a panel of wood or board. Others result from a scraping of paint-laden plywood dragged over a gigantic canvas. Advances in digital technology generates images by tapping pixel by pixel on a phone screen or by layering multiple copies of photographs. These decorative craft pieces can and do enhance private and public spaces.

    Here's the rub: when nobody remains to make art that describes our time in familiar terms, future societies will need to accept expert interpretations and valuations of today's popular art. Judgements by such as art historians, dealers and museum curators may require translation via a new form of the Rosetta Stone that unlocked the secrets of the ancient Egyptian Pyramids.©Dorothy Gauvin

Dorothy Gauvin gives tips for artists, beginners and art collectors from her 35 years as painter and retired  gallery owner-director. Check out her advice on Oz-Writer at http://www.artofgauvin.com/blog

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